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Aquino govt to release P11B to acquire more AFP arms, gear


FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija – Some P11 billion is set to be released by the Aquino administration for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to acquire additional military equipment. President Benigno Aquino III made the announcement during his speech before AFP troops here who were training with US military units for the Balikatan 2011 exercises. “Para sa kaalaman ng lahat, inilalaan ang lagpas P11 billion para sa iba't ibang kagamitan ng Sandatahang Lakas. Nandiyan na ang mga barko and other water craft, nandiyan ang helicopters for our Air Force, nandiyan ang rifles for our Philippine Army, and many more," he said. (For everyone’s information, we are allocating over P11 billion for the various equipment of the Armed Forces. These include ships and other water craft, helicopters for our Air Force, rifles for our Philippine Army, and many more.) In an interview after the event, Aquino said that of the total amount, some P8 billion will be sourced from the Malampaya natural gas royalties while the remaining P3 billion will come from the AFP modernization fund. In his speech, Aquino admitted government shortcomings in addressing the AFP’s needs. “Aminado po tayong maraming pagkukulang sa inyong hanay. Mantakin na lamang po ninyo, sa 36,000 nautical miles ng shoreline ng Pilipinas, 132 barko lamang po ang meron tayo para bantayan ang lawak na ito, at tila wala sa kalahati ang tumatakbo sa 132 na ito. Kawawa naman ang pinalakad sa lawak na ito dahil gaanong katagal nating maiikot ang 36,000 miles with 36 ships?" the President said. (We admit the many shortcomings in your capabilities. Just imagine, we only have 132 ships to patrol the Philippines’ 36,000 nautical miles of coastline—and it seems only less than half of these 132 ships are operational. I pity those assigned to cover our vast waters, considering the time need for 36 ships to cover the 36,000 miles.) Aquino said his administration is now finding ways to address the AFP’s needs although this would take time. “Paalala ko lang po, hindi ko maipapangako na kung ngayon may mga kulang, bukas kumpleto na. Ang maipapangako ko lang po, masosolusyunan natin ito sa lalong madaling panahon at sa abot ng ating makakaya," he said. (As a reminder, I can’t promise that if we are now under-equipped, tomorrow we’ll have complete gear. I can only promise that we will solve this at the soonest possible time and to the best of our ability.) More Navy craft expected He said the Philippine Navy will soon have its first Hamilton-class cutter from the US Coast Guard (USCG) this June, to be followed by two more. The Hamilton-class cutter was until recently the USCG’s largest class of vessel. “Kung dati po, malapitan lang ang naaabot na distansya ng ating mga gamit, ngayon po, may kakayahan na tayong makapaglakbay nang malayuan," he added. (If previously our ships could only go a short distance, now they will have the capacity for long distances.) Aquino also said the AFP would soon operate long-range helicopters and additional water craft to patrol the service contract areas in Palawan, Sulu Sea and other waters. “Linawin ko lang po, ang idadagdag po natin ay mga de-kalidad na patrol craft. Yung isang tawag pansin sa akin yung tinatawag na MPAC o Multipurpose Attack Craft para sa Navy. Dadami po ang MPAC na yan para magkarooon ng impact ang ating Navy," he said. (Let me clarify that we are getting more high-quality patrol craft. The one that got my attention is the Multipurpose Attack Craft for the Navy. We will have more MPACs so that our Navy will have more impact.) “Meron pa tayo sa Philippine Navy na dekatig na mga barko, sasakyang pantubig na panahon pa ni Lapu-lapu at ni Mahoma. Todo-kayod pa po ang ating gobyerno na hanapan ng solusyon ang inyong mga problema, upang mas mapangalagaan pa ninyo ang ating teritoryo. Basta makatuwiran naman po ang hinihingi, tiyak na ibibigay natin," he added. (In the Philippine Navy, we still have ships with outriggers—water craft since the time of Lapu-lapu and Muhammad. Our government is doing everything to find solutions to your problems, for you to better safeguard our territory. So long as the requests are reasonable, we will certainly grant them.) Pursuing AFP corruption cases Still in his speech, the President said he continues to have trust and confidence in the military amid controversies involving some former AFP officials, adding that his administration would pursue the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. “Hindi naman po katanggap-tanggap na ninanakawan na ng limpak-limpak na pera ang kasundaluhan, wala pa rin tayong tamang aksyon na ginagawa.," he said. (It’s not acceptable that we do no appropriate action even if the funds for our soldiers are already being stolen.) He added: “Mahalagang hakbang ito upang malutas ang kasong ito at tuluyan nang malinis ang buong pangalan ng AFP." ([Removing Gutierrez] is an important step to solve this [corruption] case and clear the name of the entire AFP.) He vowed that he would ensure that erring military personnel would be punished. “Paparusahan po natin ang mga umabuso sa inyong mga hanay, upang manumbalik ang kumpiyansa ng mamamayan sa inyo. Anuman po ang kahinatnan ng imbestigasyon sa Senado, hindi po natin papayagang buwagin ng kontrobersyang ito ang dangal at pangalan ng Sandatahang Lakas," he said. (We will punish those among your ranks who abused their position, so that you can regain our people’s trust. Whatever findings the Senate investigation comes up with, we will not allow this controversy to destroy the name and honor of the AFP.) The President also urged the soldiers to file early applications for the housing project created for them under Administrative Order 9, “para masimulan na ninyong matirhan ang mga bahay [so you can start residing in the houses]." (See: PNoy signs AO creating housing project for soldiers, police) Balikatan 2011 activities Earlier in the day, the President witnessed the military activities being conducted in this Army fort under the Balikatan 2011 program. The Balikatan activities focused on revitalizing the inter-operability of Philippine and US armed forces in post-conflict response through the conduct of disaster rehabilitation and rural development projects. Upon his arrival, Aquino was welcomed by Leslie Bassett, Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy, Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, commander of the participating US forces, Col. Manuel Ramos, commander of Combined Armed Forces (CARFOR)-Philippine side and Col. Anthony Camacho, CARFOR Commander-US side. The exercises include a convoy live firing and mass casualty evacuation demonstration activities by the elements of the Philippine Army and the US Army. Also in attendance were Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Presidential Communications and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ramon Carandang. The 2011 Balikatan exercises, which started on April 5, will run until April 15. It is the 27th in the series of bilateral exercises conducted every year to serve as venue for joint and combined training between Filipino and American military forces. The military exercises will include medical and dental missions, field training exercises and explosive ordinance training. Other exercises also include the following: Engineering Civic Action Program (ENCAP), Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP), Dental Civic Action Program, Veterinary Civic Action Program (VETCAP), and Community Relations (ComRel) activities to be conducted in Central Luzon.—JV, GMA News
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